The SpaceX Heavy Falcon sits on the pad the night before First Flight. All images credit: SpaceX.
In a bold, and risky test flight, SpaceX has created the world's currently-heaviest payload lifting rocket. The Heavy Falcon is basically a center prime stage with two attached Falcon-9 recoverable boosters to the sides. A second stage and payload sit atop the prime stage, which is also designed to land and be re-used. Until Wednesday, the rocket with the most lift was the Delta 4 rocket. The Falcon Heavy can lift a payload of 140,000 pounds to low Earth obit, 58,000 ponds to Earth Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and if needed, can launch over 37,000 pounds to Mars. Only the giant Saturn V and perhaps the Russian Energia, both retired, could lift more.
Blast off on Wednesday afternoon after high winds abated.
The Falcon Heavy lifted off from the venerable Pad LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. This site was heavily used for most of the Apollo moon launches, followed by Skylab and then Space Shuttle launches. A few years ago, the Space Center signed a 20-year lease with SpaceX. The older tower support structures were removed, and SpaceX built a new tower system with rocket assembly and testing features around the pad.
The Falcon-9 boosters landed perfectly back at the cape, at almost the same time.
Prior to the launch, Space X executives were keen to remind everyone that this as an extremely dangerous test, and it could fail. But alomst everything went right. As planned, the boosters separated and were remotely-guided down to land vertically at launch pads LZ-1 and LZ-2. These pads were built by SpaceX at the US Air Force's Cape Canaveral range just a little south of the Kennedy Space center. The site was originally Launch Complex 13, which supported testing and launches of the Atlas and Atlas-Agena rockets. Science missions Lunar Orbiter-1 and Mariner 3 were launched from there, as well as several spy satellites. Unfortunately, the prime center stage did not land successfully and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The StarMan, in its SpaceX designed spacesuit, leaves Earth Orbit on its way to the Asteroid belt.
To confirm the test launch heavy lift capability, SpaceX needed a heavy object to launch into space. In a creative publicity move, SpaceX President Elon Musk donated a car from his personal collection - a Tesla Roadster with the convertible top down. Inside was "Starman" a dummy placed in a SpaceX spacesuit. Cameras on board the car recorded and transmitted images in different directions as the car left the orbit and continued its way out to space- estimated to be an orbit near the asteroid belt. In a tribute to some science fiction icons, a Screen in the car displays "Don't Panic" and the Starman has his space-traveling towel. A miniature Tesla car hangs from the front mirror. And the radio is broadcasting David Bowie's hit "Space Oddity" as long as power holds out.
Click here to watch live views from the Roadster.
Click here to watch a tribute to the launch of the Falcon Heavy to the music of "Space Oddity".